[RPG] Murder thestery and high fantasy magic – how to make it work?


I am intending to have a murder mystery for my next game, set in a high fantasy setting in 13th Age. The setting we are playing in is very close to Eberron in tone, where magic is prevalent and powers industry and economy.

The problem I am having now is coming up with a plausible murder mystery scenario in a setting where you have disguise self (hence any alibi cannot be trusted), illusions/domination (hence witnesses are not reliable), closed environment not really being closed (dimension door, teleport, pass wall etc.) and monster summons (hence not needing a murder weapon).

While 13th Age doesn't have many of those spells available, it is possible that NPCs have it, as implied by the setting. It's the sense of "magic can do anything hence there is an infinity number of ways the murderer could have killed the victim!"

How can I

  1. design a mystery that can be done via magical means, but any classes, not only casters, can solve it?

  2. design a mystery such that the players can rule out magical means without requiring an encyclopaedic knowledge of magic ("Pass wall couldn't be used here because it is the wall is lined with lead" kind of thing). I could have magical defenses, but I don't want too much contrivance ("Oh, it's the THIRD murder scene where it is warded against magic. How convenient!")

  3. explain why there still could be clues lying around despite it that there is magic (say, what sort of clue should a dimension door or magical portal leaves behind?)

  4. show the players that the murderer is using mundane means so that they won't suspect a caster did it -and- why the murderer could use mundane means when they have magic at his/her disposal.

Best Answer

A few thoughts: unless your player characters are supposed to be on par with Sherlock Holmes, solving crimes based on nothing more than clues available at the scene, there should be quite a bit of legwork and talking involved in an investigation. It sounds like you're looking for a closed room murder ("all the windows and doors were locked from the inside!"), but if you set the murder on the night of a big party at the same location, you have instant access to a slew of potential suspects and witnesses. Even if the murderer wasn't attending the party that night (which might be a clue in and of itself: "why wasn't Lord Crawford at the party last night?"), you could easily place someone who knows something in the crowd.

Second, just because a murderer has access to magic doesn't mean the actual murder itself was magical in nature. Even a powerful wizard might turn to a dagger or nearby heavy blunt object in a fit of rage. A dagger in the back is clearly (though perhaps misleadingly, if it was placed there postmortem) mundane. As far as clues, the wizard may have escaped via dimension door, but perhaps footprints (ink from an inkwell knocked over in a struggle, or blood) leading away from the corpse suddenly vanish in the middle of the room, or a magical fetish or used spell components or what have you lie discarded on the floor. A murder, even a premeditated one, can be very unsettling to the murderer, who may not have the presence of mind to be very careful.

Lastly, you could provide the characters with a foil (an assistant or out-of-their-league detective, depending on why the characters are in charge of the investigation) whose purpose is to ask leading questions that you can use provide clues if they are struggling ("the murderer came in this window, right? Then why does it look like it was forced open from this side?").

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